Postcard from Langkawi: Seaside shawerma

Postcard from Langkawi: Seaside shawerma

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Mon, 24/01/2011 - 10:43

After embracing a long journey in the land of Malaysia which included cave-exploring, night-walks in the jungle, swimming off abandoned beaches and eating a humanly-impossible amount of food, we decided to spend our last three nights in the Far East on the beach of Langkawi.

Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea, some 30km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia, adjacent to the Thai border. The island is unique with beautiful tropical weather all year long and amazing scenery of beach and greenery that you won’t believe on first arriving, and the whole island is--literally--a duty-free zone.

Eating donuts in the morning at the nearby Starbucks coffee run by two giggly women from Mali, I walked the shore of the island taking in the smell of fresh air and the smiles of other tourists in the area. I suddenly noticed Arabic letters on one of the signs, and for a second, I forgot how to read Arabic, before I noticed the words: Shawerma Abu Mazen al-Sourya (the Syrian Shawerma of Abu Mazen). I decided to pass by in the evening in the hope of eating some shawerma, especially as my menu for the last fifteen days had included names of meals that I could not pronounce, let alone write in an article.

In the late afternoon, I ordered myself a sandwich from an employee at the restaurant, who suspiciously did not look Syrian, but started speaking to me in Arabic with an obvious Syrian accent. He asked about my origin and I confirmed that I was Syrian, and suddenly a man who did look Syrian entered the room.

The man, named Emad, welcomed me with open arms and told me a long story about his idea of a business. “I opened here nine months ago,” he explained. “I was hoping that Saudis and Arabs visiting the island would be interested in eating at my restaurant.” He shook his head and said that he was “failing” and was thinking that maybe he should go back back home. "I just want to go back home now,” he said. I didn’t want to break his heart by giving him my honest opinion concerning the quality of his shawerma, and I walked around for a while before leaving the sandwich for one of the stray cats in the streets.

As I was heading to the little airport there leaving the island, however, I envied him. Sitting in his little restaurant, enjoying the lovely weather, the amazing beach, the fresh air and the beautiful smiles. He might be lousy at making sandwiches and wishing to go home, but I would have been willing to give him my airplane seat in a second.